Analysis / Passing the Buck

Hassan Nasrallah's sudden "assumption" that Ron Arad is dead indicates that Nasrallah wants to close the Arad case, and thereby create a new equation vis-a-vis Israel, under which Hezbollah is incapable of helping Israel find Arad, but Israel is nevertheless obligated to release the Lebanese prisoners that it holds, especially Samir Kuntar. His statement follows a breakdown in talks with Israel on this subject, the last round of which took place in November. The breakdown caused Israel to raise its alert level along the northern border in December, on the assumption that Hezbollah would try to kidnap soldiers or civilians in order to obtain a lever for Kuntar's release.

The Arad and Lebanese prisoners affair has no relationship to the political developments in Lebanon, as this is Hezbollah's private preserve. But if Hezbollah kidnaps an Israeli, Beirut suddenly will find itself involved.

It may be that Nasrallah hopes in this way to turn the release of the prisoners into a Lebanese interest rather than a private Hezbollah interest. Thus by declaring that Arad is dead, he may be seeking to absolve himself of responsibility for the prisoners' release - which Israel conditioned on solid information about Arad - and transfer it to the Lebanese government.

If this assessment is correct, it indicates that Nasrallah really cannot supply information about Arad, as he has thereby abandoned the chance of scoring another victory for Hezbollah by obtaining the prisoners' release himself. But this does not mean that Hezbollah will cease trying to kidnap Israelis, since it still views itself as the operational arm of the Lebanese government vis-a-vis Israel.